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Low-Income Housing Was Dad's Dream

DEVELOPERS. One in a series on neighborhood groups who are building low-income housing and creating grass-roots leaders.

March 22, 1992|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES. Klein is a Monrovia free-lance writer

Jackie Dupont-Walker's father was a minister who led bus boycotts. He was the first black man to run for office in his hometown since Reconstruction.

And, although the north Florida native was never able to live it out, he had a developer's vision at heart.

"He often took us five children out to vacant plots on the edge of Tallahassee and talked to us about what could be there someday, how the area could grow and develop. He had a lot of ambitious ideas," Dupont-Walker remembers.

Today his youngest daughter is living out his dream. A few week ago, Jackie Dupont-Walker will oversee the ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the 120-unit Ward Villas, a low-income apartment complex for senior citizens built over the past year and a half at Magnolia Avenue and Adams Boulevard, near USC.

The security complex, an attractive two- and three-story building with a solarium, community center, library, putting green and gated parking area, was built by the Ward Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit community developer that Dupont-Walker heads as board president.

"We act on behalf of and with those who are not likely to be helped by the system," Dupont-Walker explained. "We're seeking to meet needs and to educate residents to make changes in their lives."

The corporation is unique because it is affiliated with the Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church, an 87-year-old congregation that has been located in South-Central Los Angeles since 1951. The church's pastor, the Rev. Howard S. Gloyd, holds a seat on the board of directors.

"We're carrying out the mission and legacy of our church," Dupont-Walker said. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1816 and led by Bishop Richard Allen, a black civil rights activist whose goal was to begin a biblically based ministry to the oppressed and disenfranchised, she said.

Ward church members "prayed long and seriously" before getting into the economic development arena in 1987. The congregation already had established an adoption advocacy group and had made the church building available as an emergency shelter in cold weather.

The church has about 4,000 members, most of whom are commuters who were raised in the church and have since moved to other parts of town, Dupont-Walker said. Ward's neighborhood is racially and economically diverse, with a median income 20% lower than the city as a whole.

Over the past decade, the impoverished community surrounding the church has begun to change, she said, causing tension and fears among long-term residents.

Gentrification has begun in the long-spurned area, fueled by the housing needs of USC students and faculty, many of whom have an interest in restoring the historic architecture of local homes.

Ward EDC has tried to serve as a link between the two groups, and was able to get support from the community for its $10-million senior housing complex after the previous developer on the 3.2-acre site defaulted on a plan to erect a condominium complex that very few local residents would have been able to afford.

"The original residents of that parcel lived in a few older homes, and there were some mom-and-pop stores and the remnants of a car wash there," Dupont-Walker said. When the parcel was originally cleared in 1981, residents were led to believe that senior housing would be built on the site, she said.

So when Ward EDC considered developing affordable housing there, the board suggested returning to the original agenda of a senior citizens' complex.

At first, city officials and lenders spurned the group. "We were told, 'You must be joking, you have no track record. Go build a duplex and come back, then we'll talk,' " Dupont-Walker recalled.

But after protracted negotiations with city officials and after they had secured the Broad Housing Partners as an investor and limited partner, the team broke ground on Ward Villas on Thanksgiving Day, 1990.

Funding for the project has come from the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, tax credits derived from an investment by Broad and a conventional loan. Permanent funding for the project will be provided by the Savings Assn. Mortgage Co. Inc. (SAMCO).

The complex includes 108 one-bedroom, 600-square-foot apartments and a dozen 800-square-foot, two-bedroom apartments.

The exterior of the building features wood siding and a pitched roof line, Dupont-Walker said, in an effort to match the period architecture of the neighborhood. Landscaping plans include a covered arbor with picnic tables and gardens.

In the entryway, an atrium-style lobby opens up four stories to the gable-pitched roof. The lobby links the two wings of the building so the entire length of the complex can be walked indoors.

Tenants' annual incomes must fall within a scale set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rents range from $340 to $500 a month.

The tenants must all be active, independent-living seniors, 55 years of age and older.

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